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Oakwood Cemetery lies in the flat, dusty plains of Cisco, Texas, just off West 2nd Street. It is a large cemetery. Some 8,000 graves are recorded within its rock walls. I cannot find an index for where the souls are located in the cemetery, so I resign myself to an afternoon of grave walking in the August Texas heat.

I know some Houston kin are buried here. Death certificates verified the final resting places. Captain Poe Houston and his wife, Anna Helen Truly Houston, are here, somewhere. I take a couple of bottles of water from the truck, go to one end of the cemetery, and start searching.

Cap Houston was born on Dec. 28, 1882, and died in November of 1954. He was a fiddler of some fame in the Depression Era, winning many regional fiddle contests. His greatest legacy, however, was his son, William Bryant Houston, born in 1911. Cap taught Bryant how to play fiddle and was quickly surpassed by his son's abilities. When Bryant was 14, his father took the family on the road playing at theaters and school houses in West Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas. They would put on a musical concert, which would end with a fiddle contest. Cap even took his family to Long Beach, Calif., to play at the Silver Spray Twin Ballroom and other venues on the West Coast.

When the family returned to Texas they continued doing road shows. Bryant decided to stretch his boundaries and sought out instructions from other fiddlers like Curley Fox, Lum Sellors and "Big Howdy" Forrester. He played a concert with Georgia Slim at the Arcadia Theater in Dallas. I looked up a few newspaper archives on Bryant and was amazed at how much press he received in the 60s. Several stories featured photos of Bryant playing his fiddle; eyes closed, a big smile on his face. I found one mention of him and a friend being arrested in 1966 for marijuana possession. The judge admonished him and let him off with a $500 fine after the arresting agents mentioned that Bryant had played his fiddle for them during his arrest.

"Big Howdy" invited him to play in the Grand Masters Championship Contest in Nashville, Tenn., in 1973 but Bryant deferred. He said he was too busy playing the Good Texas Contests; beating the likes of Wade Stockton, Bill Gilbert and Straley Allsup. Bryant never composed a professional recording of his playing but there is a "homemade" recording available online. Bryant's best-known song was "Chuckin' the Bush," which was composed by his father. A modern-day fiddle band, Steep Canyon Rangers, regularly pays tribute to Cap and Bryant by playing this song on their tours. Other notable songs on the record are Limerock, Kelly Waltz and Grey Eagle.

Bryant played fiddle contests for more than 60 years. He used two fiddles during his career: one given to him by his father, a Barak Norman fiddle made in England, and a 110-year-old heirloom made by Vincenzo Postiglione in Naples, Italy, valued at $25,000. In 1986 he was inducted into the Texas Fiddle Hall of Fame. He never married and spent his last 12 years in a nursing home in De Leon, Texas. The local newspaper had a regular column on the nursing home activities. Bryant was mentioned in many of them. Bryant continued to entertain the residents with his fiddle playing. He was chosen King by the residents during a Valentine party and had a knack for winning bingo games. He was indigent at the time of his death in March of 1997. It is believed that his fiddles were sold to pay for the nursing home fees. His body was gifted to medical science.

After about three hours of kicking up dust among the rows of headstones lain flush to the ground, I come upon the graves of Cap and Annie Houston. The only marker for both is a small brick with their name chiseled into the rough mortar. I am taken aback by the simplicity. I assume the families were of limited financial means and this was all they could afford. In between the bricks is a more ornate and modern marker for Bryant Houston. Below his name lies the inscription: "World -- Class Fiddler, 1911-1997. His Body To Science. His Music Will Never Die. Dedicated July 11, 2005."

I take a moment to mentally thank whoever provided Bryant's marker. I will go back to Cisco, Texas, to replace his parent's markers with something more celebratory of the family's musical heritage.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to devin.houston@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 09/25/2019

Print Headline: Old Fiddlers

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